My experiences with BBQ in Arizona have been extremely mixed. There are some really good BBQ joints and there are some places that seem to just go through the motions. By and large, the BBQ tends to be mediocre, with a few shining stars thrown in. I wish that we had quality BBQ here in every area of the Valley, but we don’t. BBQ had just never been a powerhouse here in Arizona, which I find surprising since Arizonans (not Arizonaians for you new arrivals) are big on meat.
What I have found is that I seem to have to make a substantial trek from my home in Arcadia to find decent BBQ places. This wasn’t the case when Fat Slim’s used to be open at 40th Street and Camelback, but since that closed a while back, I have been driving quite a bit for decent Q.
After a long drive out to the West Valley, Dad and I stumbled upon Dillon’s just off Thunderbird Road and the 101 at the conclusion of a trip to Cabela’s (which seems to be a big hang out for Dads) and a quick drive around the hideous exterior of Cardinal stadium. (Oh, how I wish Pink Taco would have won the naming rights for the stadium… just for my amusement.)
At first, we almost didn’t bother because the parking lot was jammed packed and I feared a very long wait. It is summer, after all, and that seems to be when BBQ is on everyone’s minds. Dad hopped out of the car and ventured in to see how long the wait would be. He came back, said they were ready to seat us, so I parked and entered.
I was a bit taken aback when I entered because the restaurant interior was huge. There were plenty of tables throughout the cavernous interior and live music was streaming from the bar. We were seated in the back at a large table and handed menus. Within a minute or two, we were approached by our server who took our drink order of one Diet Coke ($1.99) and one Iced Tea ($1.99). We also requested water.
She departed and we stated reviewing the menu. Dad went right to the section on ribs and had determined to have the Half Baby Back Rib Platter ($14.99) with the Steak Fries and Cole Slaw. I thought the Pulled Pork Platter ($9.99) sounded good and got that with the Potato Salad and the Baked Beans. For an appetizer, we got a half order of the Onion Rings ($3.99).
Our server returned with our drinks and we placed our order. Dad asked me about the restaurant and I said it was the original Dillon’s and there were two others in the West Valley. Dad said he liked how open and spacious the restaurant was and I agreed. Things were not crammed together, but with large windows and plenty of spacing between the tables, it was comfortable. The walls were alabaster white with green trim and the place was immaculate. For an older building, everything was scrubbed clean and we saw the bus staff wiping down window sills after they cleared the tables that were next to the windows.
About 10 minutes passed and our Onion Rings arrived. The plate of rings was giving off plenty of heat and the rings looked exceptional. Along side the appetizer was a small cup of what turned out to be a sort of sour cream-based dipping sauce. Dad and I waited for the rings to cool and then each grabbed one. The rings were outstanding and probably some of the best onion rings I have had in Phoenix metro. They were not cut too thin or two thick and they had clean breaks when we bit into them so we didn’t have a long string of onion hanging from our lips and a handful of batter. The batter was light like a tempura, but a bit denser. The dipping sauce was cool and tangy, but did not overwhelm the taste of the rings. Dad and I both raved about the rings. Absolutely wonderful.
We waited about 15 minutes before our entrees arrived and Dad dove into his rib platter the moment it hit the table. After stripping the meat off the bone of the first baby back rib, I asked him what he thought and he nodded a big nod of approval and gave a slight smile. He said the meat was perfect and the taste was “really delicious.” He did note, however, that although he requested the spicy Cajun sauce as his glaze of choice, there was very little kick. He said a little heat would have really been an added extra to his meal.
As for his sides, he liked the Cole Slaw quite a bit and noted that it wasn’t swimming in dressing. He said the cabbage was cold and crisp and the dressing was smooth. His Steak Fries, on the other hand, were a waste. “Kinda cold and limp,” he stated. Indeed they were. There was nothing redeeming about them at all. The fries seemed like an afterthought. We did notice a giant baked potato going by as one of the other options for a side and Dad lamented the fact that he hadn’t selected that as his second side instead of the fries.
My Pulled Pork Platter was wonderful all the way around. The pulled pork was hot, tender, and had just the right amount of their sweet, mild sauce to give it a complex dimension. The seasoning was spot on and Dad agreed that it was an excellent dish. I loved the sauce in particular because it was much more than just sweet. It was full-bodied in flavor and a wonderful smoky edge. Dad said he preferred the sweet sauce to the Cajun sauce.
My Potato Salad was also excellent because it was not overrun with mayonnaise. The dressing was scant, but just enough to give the potatoes a bit of flavor. I also tasted minced onion and celery. Then, I noticed a very nice addition that I hadn’t expected: shredded cheddar cheese. There were just a few shreds in the mix to give the potato salad a sharp taste and it was quite good. But even better than the potato salad were the Baked Beans. They were wonderful with a rich flavor and a very strong spicy side to them. The beans were slightly sweet and tender, but the spicy seasoning really made them exceptional. Dad then admitted that he should have had the baked potato and the baked beans as his two sides.
Dad and I also got a whole wheat roll with our meals. The warm rolls were pretty institutional, but I do give Dillon’s credit for putting the pat of butter under the roll so that it was nearly room temperature when we opened the foil to get to the butter.
After dinner, our server asked us if we wanted dessert and I couldn’t pass up the Blueberry Peach Cobbler ($4.99). Our server placed the order and refreshed our drinks. Dad and I were actually debating also getting another order of the onion rings, but we decided to see how the cobbler went and go from there.
When the cobbler arrived, wisps of steam were wafting off the top and the scoop of vanilla bean ice cream on top was beginning to melt and coat the top with melted ice cream goodness. Dad and I each took a spoon, got some cobbler and ice cream and indulged. It was very good. Nothing fancy, but it was still a wonderful way to end our meal. The mix of blueberries and peaches was a complementary combination that cut some of the strength of the blueberry taste and added a nice dimension to the cobbler. All in all, we were quite pleased.
We requested our bill and the total was $41.39, which included tax. The service was attentive and professional, but somewhat sterile at times. We paid the bill and left, getting back on the 101 and then off to Arcadia. Dad was all smiles. He said he didn’t like the steak fries and would have liked the sauce on his ribs to actually be spicy, but those were his only complaints. I agreed with his assessment.
(As a side note - not directed specifically at Dillon’s - I so wish American restaurants would take five minutes out of their day to learn the double fry method of cooking fries. That very simple process would turn an average fry into a thing of beauty.)
Dillon’s was a big hit with Dad and me and I know we will be back.
Since Dad has all but taken up residence at Cabela’s, I am sure that next return will be quite soon.
8706 West Thunderbird Avenue
Peoria, AZ 85381
Hours: Sunday through Thursday - 11 AM to 9 PM; Friday and Saturday - 11 AM to 10 PM.
Notes: Two additional locations are in Surprise and Glendale.
Alcohol: Full bar service.
Additional photos can be found at www.feastinginphoenix.com
8706 W Thunderbird Rd, Peoria, AZ 85381
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